Sunday, June 20, 2010

Comic shop comics: June 9th

Batman #700 (DC Comics) I feel a little weird even attempting a review of this comic book at this point, even the sort of “type up what I thought right after reading it” pseudo-reviewing I do in this space, given that so long has passed since its release that I think the main points of contention I had with it were covered elsewhere already.

Like in Comics Alliance’s roundtable on it. David Uzumeri summed up my feelings on the price tag (“[F]rankly highway robbery. As a $3.99 31-page oversized issue, there'd be a lot to recommend here. As a $4.99 ‘supersized special,’ it's a disaster”), and Chris Sims offered a cover-all complaint that points out exactly why this book should have been just about perfect: “THEY'VE HAD 700 MONTHS.”

And at his Factual Opinion, Tucker Stone gave the pin-up section—eight pages art, at least some of which is recycled, and four pages of computer drawings of the Batcave—to help justify the $2 price hike the kicking it deserves:

And then it's a bunch of fucking pin-ups, which—Daredevil 500 got pin-ups right. Not that hard to get them right! You go and get some artists that people haven't seen before and a few they don't see enough, and boom, let 'em surprise you. No, this, instead, picks out the exact same guys that you can see all the time.

But maybe you haven’t read those particular posts, and refuse to click on the links to them which I’ve just gone to the trouble of providing for you? Fine.

Batman #700 is Grant Morrison’s run on the Batman comics summed up in a way-too-expensive, thrown-together package, which means it includes all of the positive things he’s done while writing Batman and Batman and Robin over the last couple of years, but also most of the negatives of those series.

The main event is a 30-page story scripted by Morrison and illustrated by six different artists (including the inkers). It opens in the past, which looks like it’s set somewhere around the time that the Silver Age was giving way to the Bronze Age. Silver Age plot device Professor Nichols, who used to send Batman and Robin back in time, is brought back into continuity, and given a fresh sheen of comic book realism (His time machine is a sort of hypnotic, mental time travel).

The Joker has assembled a who’s who of Bat-villains—The Riddler, Catwoman, The Mad Hatter, Scarecrow—to forcibly use Batman Bruce Wayne, Robin Dick Grayson and Nichols’ “maybe machine” for their own nefarious purposes. The following chapter is set in the present, in which Batman Dick Grayson and Robin Damian attempt to solve Nichols’ mysterious murder, and the final chapter is set in the far-flung future, in which Batman Damian (seen in Batman #666) attempts to save Gotham City. Elements of the first chapter—Nichols, The Joker’s joke book—come into play in the next two.

Like most of Morrison’s bat-writing, it’s pretty great stuff, impressive in its ability to make the most difficult aspects of Batman’s long and varied fictional history “work” together, a ton of fun to read and a nice demonstration of the unique pleasures possible when a writer devotes him or herself to a nice long run on a title.

And like far too much of Morrison’s time on the Batman franchise, it’s a complete fucking mess.

The Bat-office had Tony Daniel draw the “Yesterday” section, apparently using the logic that Daniel is the artist most associated with Morrison’s Bruce Wayne-as-Batman comics, despite the fact that this is a Bruce Wayne Batman whose Robin wore green panties and pixie boots, who fought a Catwoman who wore a purple cape and green dress and who would often travel through time in the course of his adventures.

Why not hire a classic Batman artist for the gig, or someone who can do a more classic style? Who knows.

Regardless, Daniel, again inking himself, does a fine job here. I’m still not crazy about his style, and his storytelling leaves a lot to be desired—note the introduction of Nichols on page two, and how he relates in space to the Joker—but for whatever reasons, the work here is much, much better than it was the last time he and Morrison collaborated on a Batman comic.

For the “Today” section, DC turned to Frank Quitely, which makes sense—he’s the artist who drew the first three issues of Batman and Robin featuring the new and current Batman and Robin, as well as the covers for the rest of the series. Of all the artists to draw the book so far, he’s certainly the most popular.

Unfortunately, he could apparently only handle five of the eight pages needed before deadline, so Scott Kolins draws the last thirteen panels of the story. Kolins is a fine artist, of course, but the style he uses here is so different than Quitely’s (I think they even switch colorists, as two are credited for this section, and Kolins’ has a weird, airbrushed look to it) that the turn of the page is jarring.

It also breaks the whole different-artist-for-each-setting plan of the book, contributing to the impression of half-assedness radiating from the pages. They would have been better off having Kolins do the whole thing, or instead of Quitely looking to another of the current Batman artists: Dustin Nguyen, Guillem March, even Mark Bagley or Daniel.

Big-ups to Kolins for this scene though: Between reading his production material for Batman: Year 100 and hearing him speak about the project, I’ve heard a lot of Paul Pope’s thoughts on Batman, and one that really stuck out was what he had to say about superheroes and eating. Batman must burn a ton of calories every night, and yet almost never gets shown eating, he argued—and when Batman does eat, like most superheroes, he seems to keep his gloves on.

So it was neat to see Batman drinking a cup of coffee with his glove off, while Robin similarly enjoyed a slice of pizza.

The nine-page “tomorrow” section is drawn by Andy Kubert, and I’ve got no complaints about it. Kubert was a great choice—he drew the only previous appearance of Damian-as-Batman—and he manages to draw all the pages himself and make them look pretty damn nice.

Finally, there’s an “And Tomorrow…” section showing that, as Morrison has had characters repeat repeatedly, “Batman and Robin can never die!” This whole section is penciled by David Finch, a spectacularly terrible choice for the gig, and consists of six pages set in four different futures, before returning back to the present for two pages.

This too breaks the different-artist-for-each-setting pattern, and demonstrates Finch’s lack of versatility. (Can he draw in a Bruce Timm/animated style? No, no he cannot.)

There are four futures, two of which are “old” futures—that of Batman Beyond and the 853rd Century from Morrison’s DC One Million series/event.

Why not have someone who has drawn Batman Beyond before, either a big name associated with the show like Bruce Timm or Darwyn Cooke or an artist who worked on the Batman Beyond comic book DC used to publish (or one of the artists working on the upcoming Batman Beyond miniseries)? It’s only a page; I think even Timm or Cooke could have fit three panels into their schedules.

And for the Batman One Million section, why not ask Val Semeiks or Howard Porter or Mark Buckingham or Jim Balent or Staz Johnson or one of the other artists who have drawn him before? (Again, it’s only one page; three panels). I wouldn’t have even recognized this future Batman as Batman One Million, were it not for the presence of his robot sidekick Robin, The Toy Wonder in one of the panels.

So that’s way too many words about the main story: Well-written, but featuring oddly rushed, overly patchwork art which leaves one thinking more about the decisions of the editors in the Bat-office than it does about how cool Batman and Robin are.

Finally, there’s the “Batman Art Gallery,” which adds injury to insult. They tacked an extra dollar on to the price of this book, apparently for the 12 pages of art in it. These include pin-ups by Shane Davis and Sandra Hope, Juan Doe, Guillem March, Bill Sienkiewicz, Philip Tan, two by Dustin Nguyen (both of which are quite clearly created as covers for Batman: Streets of Gotham…one of them even have the title “Batman: Streets of Gotham” worked directly into the artwork) and one by former cover artist Tim Sale.

In other words, it looks like someone decided the week before the book went to print that they could charge an extra buck for it if they filled up some more pages, and editor Mike Marts spent a frantic half hour in his office finding unused cover art to use.

They could have had a bunch of folks that one doesn’t usually see drawing Batman drawing Batman pin-ups here, or they could have had a bunch of artists who have drawn Batman in years past contribute new work to accentuate the anniversary nature of the book. Or they could have just saved readers a buck and not bothered.

It’s frustrating, because it’s exactly reading experiences like this that can push a regular serial comics reader sitting on the fence between reading new issues as they come out and switching to trades (or hell, quitting) into giving up monthly installments—it is quite clearly not worth it, and it’s clear some folks aren’t even trying to make it appear worth it.

This concludes today’s episode of Caleb Mozzocco, Verbose Armchair Batman Editor.

Oh wait, two more things!

I noticed an “Approved By The Comics Code Authority” stamp on the cover of this issue, a relic from the past whose continued presence on certain comic books continues to confuse me.

This mainstream super-comic certainly wasn’t the goriest or most violent one I read this week (the next one down was), but it did contain this panel: I’m not kvetching or anything here, mutant rats eating a dude’s eyeball in a Batman comic isn’t as nearly as decadent as a space alien ripping the skins off a family in a comic ironically entitled Brightest Day, I just think it’s weird seeing what the CCA stamps these days.

Oh, and in the page-wasting “Secrets of The Batcave” section, Stephanie Brown got another damn glass case……even though she’s not even dead anymore! The Internet wins! Bill Willingham loses!

Brightest Day #3 (DC) I really don’t get why DC was so pumped about this David Finch character signing an exclusive deal with them. Perhaps he is really popular, and the bean counters knew that a comic book with a David Finch cover was likely to sell 2,000 more issues than one without a David Finch cover or something, but I don’t think his stuff is very good at all.

I spent more time contemplating David Finch’s work this week than usual, as I happened to read two comics featuring his cover art, as well as seeing some interior art (see above).

The closer I look at the cover of Brightest Day #3, the worse it looks. It’s your average everybody pose-and-hid-their-feet sort of image, but it’s not a very good one. Why is Martian Manhunter so tiny, and what’s he standing on? (Did he makes his legs intangible, for the sake of being easier to draw?) Where are Hawkman’s legs, exactly? Why is Hawkgirl’s fetish harness so ill-fitting? Are she and Mera okay? Have they been drinking gingold? Why is head as big as her pelvis and hips?

I guess you’re just not supposed to look too closely at these things, but it strikes me as super-weird that a piece of art this fussed-over, where the colorist made sure to add light flares all over all the metal in the image, but never said to the editor, “Hey, shouldn’t Hawkman’s torso be connected to a bottom half? And is J’onn supposed to be a few inches shorter than Aquaman and Mera, or is he in the background and, if the latter, then shouldn’t we be able to see his goddam feet?”

Just for comparison’s sake, here’s the covers of the third issues of DC’s preceding weeklies, of which this bi-weekly project is something of a descendant of:

None of them are the greatest covers in the world either, but each is at least working some sort of concept, and even Trinity’s one-third of an image at least features better figure work on a posing lady.

As for the insides, this is much like the last two issues, in that the featured characters continue to pursue their own storylines, none of which have connected just yet. The biggest development is the white power ring having a conversation with Deadman while forcing him to fight the Anti-Moniotor; otherwise, Aquaman and Firestorm continue to deal with their post-Blackest Night issues, J’onn J’onnz continues to track an alien monster and the Hawks beat the bejeezus out of people while looking for the bones of their ancestors.

Of special note this issue is how terrible the art in the Firestorm section is. It looks like photos of a real hospital were imported into someone’s computer, and not terribly great drawings of Ronnie Raymond, Jason Rusch, Jason’s dad and Professor Stein were cut-and-pasted on top of them, interacting with the rest of the panel about as organically as that suggests.

On the plus side, I thought this panel of an undead orca answering Aquaman’s VUU VUU VUU VUU VUU telepathic summons was really funny:
And this panel of Hawkman fighting some mercenary dude’s answered the question I’ve always had about why he and Hawkgirl use maces, since it seems like there’s a pretty good chance that hitting a dude with a mace will either kill him or leave him brain-damaged:Obviously, Hawkman doesn’t really care how permanently he damages bad guys.

On the whole, I’m still digging this series, and looking forward to seeing how the various threads will eventually intersect, as well as the mystery of the white power battery.

Heralds #1-#2 (Marvel Comics) Here’s Marvel’s latest flirtation with a 52-like schedule. This is a special limited series being published on a weekly schedule, although it’s only a five-issue series.

I think there’s a ton of potential in weekly comics, and look forward to a day when DC and Marvel publish their big stories like Siege and Blackest Night on such a schedule. No, it wouldn’t make economic sense, but can you imagine how exciting it would have been to read a chapter of Blackest Night a week over the course of two months?

This is a series being told on the fringes of the Marvel universe instead of at its heart, so I can’t imagine the publishing schedule will be seen as a great draw to a lot of Marvel fans. The series seems like one that a lot of them would file under their own personal “wait for the trade” lists, and since it will wrap up in about a month, they won’t even have to wait very long for the trade.

It’s by written by Kathryn Immonen (Patsy Walker, Hellcat) and drawn by Tonci Zonjic (Marvel (ugh) Divas) and is about an unlikely all-heroine super-team being temporarily thrown together for little logical reason to battle a mysterious alien menace.

The line-up is fairly random: Emma Frost, Hellcat, She-Hulk, Monica Rambeau/Photon, Valkyrie and, for the first issue at least, Agent Brand of SWORD. To Immonen’s credit, she finds an interesting, buy-able rationale for the team existing. Emma’s boyfriend Scott “Cyclops” Summers was made to promise that he wouldn’t organize any sort of surprise birthday party because she didn’t want to celebrate it with anyone she knew, so he apparently chose some super-ladies at random to take Emma on a girl’s night out.

Because this is the Marvel Universe and more than two super-characters can not be in the same place at the same time without the world coming under threat, something hinky at SWORD unleashes all sorts of chaos.

I was rather surprised at how trivia-oriented the plot was, as I felt several elements were familiar to me from other Marvel Comics (or cartoons based on ‘em), although it was nothing very solid—that is, I there were several points where I felt like I was seeing something that I should recognize, even though I didn’t.

That aside, Immonen writes some really great dialogue, and I enjoyed the conversations between Scott and Emma, the pitter-patter fight chatter and girl talk of the heroines and even the way she injected humor into the science-people-talk-about-science sections of the plot (“Look. Imagine an onion.” “No.”).

Zonjic’s art was really great, but, for some weird reason, issue two adds a second artist and second colorist (James Harren and June Chung), which seems awfully early in a series for an art change…especially since it’s just a five-issue miniseries and there was absolutely no reason to start shipping the damn thing until Zonjic (or whoever got the assignment) had finished drawing it.

Ah well, flawed but fun sure beats flawed and not much fun.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I get the appeal of David Finch, but not on covers. On Ultimatum, World War Hulk, and now Brightest Day, his covers have just been . . . flaccid. They're so dark and moody, which is fine when Tim Sale or Darwyn Cooke does it, or even Jim Lee, but there's no energy to Finch's moodiness. Instead, it looks like all his characters' faces have been flattened, or given really bad nose jobs.

Kid Kyoto said...

Glad you reviewed Batman 700 after all, some people had noted the pin upsection but you're the first one to point out it's not even a pin up section but a rejected cover section.